This is a man’s world, but it would be nothing without... gender neutral clothing

By Katie Murray

12th September 2017

When I was in year five, one of my teachers asked me if I would wear slacks to school if I was given the chance. I told her no, because I thought they’d fall off.

At the time sling back shoes were in vogue and I thought slacks was some kind of shorthand, though that says more about my knowledge of slang at the time than my preference of uniform choice. But as a young girl at school, I was not worried about the boys wearing a different uniform to me, or thinking, ‘why do I have to wear a skirt and they don’t?’.

Yet as opinions on gender stereotypes have evolved in the years since my time in the classroom, many brands are racing to keep up and show their progressive way of thinking. Last week, John Lewis announced the launch of gender neutral children’s clothing, with the forward-thinking company removing the labels ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ from its clothing range. From now on, all children’s clothes are available to all.

Whilst many customers praised the move, not everyone is happy about it. Indeed the Independent ran with the headline, ‘Can we call it John Lewis anymore or does it have to be Joan Lewis?’ and Cosmopolitan reported on consumers views of political correctness gone mad. But John Lewis is not the first fashion brand to introduce a gender-neutral clothing range. Jaden Smith made headlines last year when he starred in Louis Vuitton’s SS16 womenswear campaign. And high street brand H&M introduced an entirely unisex denim line, showing that it’s not just luxury brands paving the way.

It is also not just John Lewis ruffling feathers.

Just recently, Priory School in Lewes banned girls from wearing skirts as part of a play for neutrality. As of this September all pupils in year seven will wear a pair of trousers, shirt and tie. The school was once attended by Piers Morgan who in true form didn’t hold back from commenting saying, ‘Let the boys be boys and girls be girls, and stop confusing them in this ridiculous way’. However, Mermaids UK, a charity which supports transgender children and their parents, has backed the move, which it says sends ‘a clear message of acceptance’.

Earlier this year a group of schoolboys in Exeter protested against having to wear trousers in the extreme heat by all wearing the girls school skirt to classes for a day. Rather than add skirts to the boys’ uniform, or ban gender labelling of uniforms, the headmistress decided to add a pair of shorts to the uniform the following year. Which is perhaps why the media spin around this story was slightly more positive. The Mail ran the headline ‘Boys win their battle to wear shorts to school during hot weather after turning up in their droves wearing girls’ uniforms in protest, yet I can imagine the headline would have been quite different had the headmistress decided to make one uniform for all genders. Not to mention the fact that the boys in their kilts made such a great picture story.

Whilst the majority of the British public appear to welcome the thought of breaking down stereotypes, there is still work to be done to gain acceptance from all, which is clearly evident by the furore caused by John Lewis. Yet we are entering an age where brands are seeking to give boys and girls an equal footing. And that’s worth shouting about.